What would it be like to use the Web if you had some sort of impairment? What would it be like if you had a vision impairment? Mobility impairment? Auditory? Cognitive? It’s important for Web designers to take all potential members of a site’s audience into consideration when designing for the Web.

Those with vision impairment typically use screen readers, braille displays, or screen magnifiers in order to read the text on a Web page. Users with limited mobility may use modified mice and keyboards, foot pedals, or joysticks to navigate the Web. User with an auditory impairment will not be able to hear any sound used within a page, and usually rely on transcripts or subtitles. And those with a cognitive impairment, such as memory or reading comprehension limitations, will have trouble processing sites that are too complicated.

A website needs to be designed and coded to function quickly, easily and simply. The foundation of a site needs to be solid in order to guarantee accessibility for as many people as possible and, if it is desired or requested by the client, all the pretty “bells and whistles” can be added to the solid foundation to make a complete, stylish website. By coding a site in the cleanest, simplest way possible, it ensures that its basic and necessary elements can be accessed by even the oldest and slowest of browsers, as well as by those who use assistive devices to access the Web.

In order to help make the Web useable for everyone, the W3C started the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) in order to provide Web designers and coders with a set of guidelines to follow to create the best possible sites. While adherence to these guidelines is required for Government sites (according to its Section 508 accessibility guidelines, which are actually based on those written by the W3C), all sites benefit from them, and you should follow them if you can.